Misunderstood Minds
Stories from the Documentary:
Nathan V. Lauren Sarah Lee Adam Nathan S.


 Introduction  "When you're a kid, school is your career. And if you go out of business in school, if your business goes bankrupt, if you're not having any success, you're left with almost nothing. You are poverty-stricken. Where do you go from there?"
-- Dr. Mel Levine
Founder, All Kinds of Minds

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Millions of American children struggle in school daily because of serious learning problems. The causes are often unknown, specific problems can be difficult to pinpoint, and the long-term effects hard to predict.

Research in the field of learning problems took off in the 1960s, when the first federal funds were earmarked to support children with specific learning disabilities. Experts know more now than ever before, but the evolution of that knowledge also parallels the rise of standardized tests and the current era of high-stakes testing. The tension between the demand for academic success and the stubborn reality of a problem makes learning difficulties one of the most contentious topics in an increasingly competitive and educated society.

It comes as no surprise that when a child can't read or write or pay attention -- and when the problem doesn't go away -- parents, educators, experts, and policymakers often collide in an earnest struggle to find answers.

The landscape of learning problems encompasses a range of expert opinions. Different approaches to terminology and treatment reflect that range. Some learning specialists use the phrase "learning differences" to describe cognitive strengths and weaknesses without labels that they believe may erode children's self-esteem and motivation to succeed. Neurologists and other learning specialists prefer the phrase "learning disabilities" to describe specific neurocognitive breakdowns in otherwise bright children and to underscore the existence of disabling conditions.

In the middle of this landscape there is common ground. Everyone agrees that "disability" is a term with legal ramifications; virtually all of the funding to support children with specific problems is tied to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. And while learning differences and disabilities don't go away, the research and work of learning experts in the last 40 years translates into effective strategies that help children succeed.

This site is a companion to the PBS special Misunderstood Minds, and profiles a variety of learning problems and expert opinions. It is designed to give parents and teachers a better understanding of learning processes, insights into difficulties, and strategies for responding.

We gratefully acknowledge the advisors whose work helped shape this site: Dr. Michael Rivkin, Dr. David Urion, Ellen Boiselle, M.A., and Maria Marolda, M.A., from the Neurology and Learning Disabilities Program at Children's Hospital, Boston; Dr. Mel Levine and Melissa Wakely, M.A., Ph.D., from All Kinds of Minds; James Wendorf from the National Center for Learning Disabilities; and Dr. Lynn Meltzer and Joan Steinberg, M. Ed., from the Institute for Learning and Development and Research ILD.

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